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Leaders of the Lebanon's U.S.-backed government and the Hezbollah-led opposition
Leaders of the Lebanon's U.S.-backed government and the Hezbollah-led opposition have signed a deal to end a protracted political crisis which has left the Middle East state unable to elect a president since November 2007, Lebanese TV said on Wednesday.

The crisis began in late 2006 when six pro-Syrian ministers quit the cabinet of Prime Minister Fuad Siniora during a power struggle. The crisis eventually resulted in street battles when the Syrian-backed Hezbollah took control of the Muslim half of Beirut on May 9 after three days of clashes with pro-government militias. The fighting was reminiscent of the civil war that devastated the country from 1975-1990.

The rival political forces agreed on the formation of a new national unity government and the holding of presidential elections during six-day peace talks in Qatar.

The deal concerns the election of Gen. Michel Suleiman as the country's next president. Qatari Prime Minister Sheik Hamad bin Jassem al-Thani said on Wednesday that Suleiman would be elected within the next 24 hours.

Under the deal that paves the way for Suleiman to become president, the ruling majority will receive 16 seats in the country's new government, which will allow it to choose a prime minister. The opposition will have 11 posts, allowing it a veto, while three ministers will be appointed by the country's president.

However, no agreement has been reached on Hezbollah's military arsenal and private telephone network, which remain a key stumbling block in the dispute. Hezbollah says it needs its arms to defend the southern part of the country from Israel. According to the deal reached earlier this month, the issue is expected to be discussed shortly after presidential elections, under the chairmanship of the country's new president.

Some 1,200 Lebanese, the majority of them civilians, and 157 Israelis, two-thirds of them soldiers, lost their lives in fighting between Israel and Syrian-backed Hezbollah in 2006.

The Lebanese government had accused Syria, which had a significant influence in Lebanese affairs for decades before it was forced to withdraw its troops from the country in 2005, of standing in the way of the election of a new president.

However, Syria and its allies in Lebanon blamed the political turmoil on Washington's alleged attempts to split the Arab world in order to achieve its political goals in the Middle East.


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